One of the most contentious topics regarding resume preparation (second only to the “How many pages?” question) is “Which resume format is better, functional or chronological?”
It is also one of the most frequent questions posed to me by current and prospective executive resume writing clients.
You will see at the end of this post that my answer is actually going to be: “Neither,” and present an alternative that leverages the best of both styles.
This article will define and then outline the pros and cons of strictly functional and chronological resume approaches, as well as that third alternative.
Defining Functional & Chronological Executive Resumes
Functional Executive Resume:
A resume that presents your qualifications with an emphasis on skills (this format is also sometimes called “skills-based”). Your experience and achievements are presented within various categories chosen from skill sets that are most important for your current or targeted industry/role.
Chronological Executive Resume (More Accurately: Reverse Chronological Resume):
A resume that gives precedence to the work history, from present to past. A strictly chronological resume would take your work history from your first job to present-day, but it is important to remember that you need to start with your most recent position and work back in reverse order for this style of resume.
Key Points About the Two Resume Styles
Functional and reverse chronological presentations may each be more suitable depending on the situation. Here are some key points to note about the two resume styles:
- Executive recruiters and human resource professionals generally do not like functional resumes.
- Chronological resumes or a variation on this style are the most commonly used and well-accepted.
- Functional resumes tend to raise a red flag: This individual may be trying to hide career gaps, age, or job hopping.
What Each Executive Resume Style Can Do
A reverse chronological resume can:
- Highlight progressive advancement in responsibility and upward career mobility
- Provide a clear picture of employment history, and
- Enable you to tie your responsibilities and accomplishments together in a logical fashion that makes hiring authorities comfortable.
A functional resume will:
- Allow you to highlight major skills up front regardless of where in your work history they were developed. Read more about skills you may want to showcase here.
- Categorize and group accomplishments from different positions
- Eliminate repetitiveness in a work history consisting of very similar positions
- De-emphasize current or recent positions not related to your career objective, frequent job changes or gaps, or apparent demotions in responsibility.
(These last characteristics of the functional resume are, of course, the very reason that employers and recruiters generally do not like them!)
Situations in Which Each Resume Style is Most Suitable
A reverse chronological resume may be more suitable for candidates who:
- Have no large gaps in work history
- Offer a reasonable amount of experience in their targeted function or industry
- Have a fairly steady work history without frequent job changes
- Possess substantial work experience
A functional resume may be more suitable for candidates who:
- Possess limited work experience in their targeted industry or role
- Want to make a change to a new field
- Have large gaps in their work history or many job changes
Functional vs Reverse Chronological: Which Resume Format is Most Preferred?
Because of the negative perceptions of a functional presentation and the difficulty it presents to recruiters and hiring managers in evaluating your work experience, a reverse chronological presentation is generally to be preferred.
If a functional format is used, you will want to be certain to include a brief employment chronology after your functional presentation of experience and accomplishments. This will at least to some extent fulfill the reader’s desire to see your actual work history.
Third Option: The Combination or Hybrid Executive Resume
There is a third option which allows you to have the best of both worlds: the combination or hybrid style resume. As the name implies, a combination or hybrid executive resume blends elements of both the functional and reverse chronological styles. With this style, you:
- Create a powerful profile or overview section which showcases your skills, knowledge, and capabilities.
- Pull out and highlight some of your most impressive accomplishments up front.
- Back up your claims with a work history providing specific examples of when, where, and how you have applied these skills, knowledge, and capabilities to benefit your employers. See this article for more on how to write a powerful work history:
The combination or hybrid style is great for executives who want to showcase a skill set that is specifically and strongly relevant to their target.
It can work equally well for a candidate who wants to stay in their current industry or role, or one who wants to venture out into a new industry or role. However, if the desired career change is really a huge departure from previous experience, occasionally a functional resume that also has a well-defined chronological history may be warranted.
A combination/hybrid resume is the one that I use probably 98% of the time with my executive resume clients because:
- It allows you to front-load a compelling summary that makes the business case for why the employer needs you,
- Makes the impression you want in that critical first 6-20 seconds, and then
- Provides the traditional work history the reader is looking for.
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